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A top Statehouse Republican pitched a fourth plan for paying for a new Colts stadium on Friday, calling for sweeping tax increases that would touch almost everyone in Marion County.
The proposal incensed Mayor Bart Peterson, who had proposed using taxes on 1,500 new slot machines, possibly housed in Downtown Indianapolis, to raise the bulk of the money needed to build a stadium.
State Rep. Jeff Espich, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, called for a raft of tax increases, including boosting the county's income and restaurant tax rates; charging Colts fans up to $10 more a ticket to attend games at the new stadium; and placing a 2 percent tax on players' salaries.
Although Espich unveiled the plan, Peterson zeroed in on House Speaker Brian Bosma, of Indianapolis. Bosma is the leader of the House GOP and controls the House Republican Policy staff, which compiled Espich's tax list.
"Speaker Bosma's proposal today, if it is the final word, means the Colts are leaving Indianapolis," the mayor said. "The speaker wants to raise income and sales taxes only in Marion County to pay for the stadium.
"The question I would ask is: Why does Speaker Bosma want to raise taxes when we don't have to?"
Peterson said the measures would raise Marion County taxes to alarming rates and, in some cases, void the deal he reached with Colts owner Jim Irsay late last year.
Peterson's plan counts on $46 million a year from taxes on slot machines. To finance an expansion of the Indiana Convention Center, he seeks smaller tax increases in hotel and car rental taxes than those Espich wants.
Espich would double Marion County's hotel tax, to 12 percent; Peterson wants it at 9 percent. Espich suggested the county's car rental tax jump to 6 percent from 2 percent; Peterson is seeking 4 percent.
"We've tried to be helpful in putting together this list," Espich said, insisting that he wasn't playing politics but instead was looking for ways to keep the Colts.
Under the stadium deal Peterson cut with the Colts, the team agreed to a 30-year lease and the city pledged to pay the bulk of the new venue's cost. The city hopes to expand the Convention Center on the site of the RCA Dome, where the Colts now play, and build a retractable-roof stadium to the south.
After the mayor's sharp words, Bosma said he had been briefed on many parts of Espich's proposals. He urged the mayor to remember that most members of the General Assembly do not hail from Marion County.
"The mayor needs to get realistic and see that Indianapolis doesn't control the world," Bosma said.
The GOP plan drew other opposition, too. John Livengood, who heads trade groups representing Indiana hotels and restaurants, said Espich's plan would possibly give Indianapolis the nation's highest hotel taxes.
"It's truly an outrageous proposal," Livengood said. "You might as well not build the Convention Center at that point, because nobody would come."
Peterson announced his stadium and Convention Center project in December so the General Assembly could consider it this session. But with Republicans controlling the Statehouse and Peterson being one of the state's top Democrats, few predicted the process would be easy.
Bill Blomquist, a political scientist at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, said political thoughts are guiding the debate.
"All of this is positioning," Blomquist said. "This is a combination of Republicans protecting their suburban constituents by keeping a regional tax plan off the table and their willingness to make this as difficult as possible for the mayor."
While Peterson has essentially written off his initial call for Downtown Indianapolis slots, lawmakers continue to debate two other plans to place a total of 5,000 slot machines at racetracks in Anderson and Shelbyville. Peterson said those proposals could provide the $46 million needed annually to pay off stadium debt.
What will happen next? Espich said he plans to put his proposal in bill form and expects a hearing before his committee in the next week or so. Other lawmakers say they expect other proposals to emerge.
Meanwhile, Gov. Mitch Daniels isn't ruling out the possibility he will draft his own plan.
Fred Glass negotiated the mayor's stadium deal with the Colts after rumors surfaced that the team was leaving for Los Angeles. On Friday, he took a lighthearted jab at Bosma, reminding that the Republican speaker was on the receiving end of a pass from Peyton Manning when the Colts quarterback visited the Statehouse on Thursday.
"Yesterday, he was catching a pass from Peyton Manning," Glass said Friday. "Today, he wants to trade him to L.A."
Call Star reporter Matthew Tully at (317) 444-6033.